Fitter Amar Virdi grateful for Surrey’s tough love


Virdi was left out of Surrey's Championship team for the first half of last season after failing to meet the fitness expectations

Virdi was left out of Surrey’s Championship team for the first half of last season after failing to meet the fitness expectations © Getty

Surrey off-spinner Amar Virdi does not think he would have made England’s 30-man training squad for the series against West Indies had it not been for some tough love from Surrey’s Director of Cricket, Alec Stewart, last summer.

Virdi was left out of Surrey’s Championship team for the first half of last season after failing to meet the fitness expectations of Stewart and the rest of Surrey’s coaching staff following a stress fracture of the back. Stewart spoke publicly about Virdi’s need to get fitter and it had the desired effect as Virdi made significant progress working with Surrey’s strength and conditioning coach, Daz Veness.

“I don’t think I’d be here if that didn’t happen,” Virdi admitted. “Maybe my approach has been a lot more focused on my bowling. Cricket now includes everything…your fitness. It probably took something like that to realise how important it was. If that hadn’t have happened I might have struggled progressing to the next level.

“Obviously my fitness is a lot better and I’m a lot better than I was. I’m hitting most of those minimum standards and now it’s a case of making sure I’m fit enough to play the game and even at the end of a long day’s play I’m ready to go the next day. That’s key for me especially wanting to play Test cricket… I’ve noticed that it’s had a big impact on my bowling.”

Once restored to the Surrey team in July, Virdi picked up 14 wickets against Nottinghamshire, immediately reaffirming his credentials as one of England’s hottest young spin bowling prospects. At 22 years, there is still plenty more to learn but his attacking instincts are certainly reminiscent of Graeme Swann, one of Virdi’s heroes growing up.

“In my set up as a bowler it’s a fundamental thing,” he said. “I think you’ve got to be aggressive and looking to take wickets. Maybe the wickets are not always suited to you but even at times when you have to keep it tight my eyes are always on taking wickets regardless.

“Obviously being young I’m still getting better at my skills and I may still bowl the odd loose ball. But I think if you’re attacking you will bowl a lot more wicket-taking deliveries and that’s what makes you dangerous. It’s a tough school but I’m going to keep on driving at that to become the best possible.

“The first thing I did with a cricket ball was bowl spin. Growing up I watched Graeme Swann and Monty [Panesar] bowling and that was very inspirational to me. With Monty, he looks very similar to me, especially being from the community that I am.

“We’re in a minority in a lot of industries and to see someone progressing and doing well in the field you’re in really motivates you and shows you you can do it. My memories are of Graeme Swann ripping through them in the Ashes. They’re fond memories.”

With Moeen Ali back in Test contention after missing the winter to refresh mentally and Jack Leach now fully recovered from the health issues which dogged him on the tours to New Zealand and South Africa, there are plenty of spinners ahead of Virdi in the pecking order. Nevertheless, he hopes to push his case for a Test debut during the two week camp in Southampton.

“I’m here and I want to play Test cricket whenever that comes so I’m going to keep on trying my hardest to make sure I can play,” he said. “I don’t really try to impress as such I want to do my own thing and be who I am. That’s what I want to show people and show people what I’m capable of doing rather than doing other things or try forcefully to show my skills.

“I definitely want to be playing in the first Test and I want to be in the squad. If I didn’t want to do that I probably shouldn’t be here. I’m very proud of myself that I’ve got to this stage. The next stage is about pushing for a Test place and whenever that does happen I’m going to keep working hard.”

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